Shedding the Skin of the Snake
Posted on 05 April 2012, 13:04
Snakes shed the outer layer of the skin as they outgrow the old one, replacing their worn scales with a new, healthy skin. A new layer develops below the surface of the old skin. The snake begins the shedding process by rubbing its nose against rocks or other hard objects to start the separation of the old layer from its lips, and then crawls out of its old skin. The old skins are often found intact where they were abandoned.
“Shedding the skin of the snake” is sometimes used to describe what happens at a crisis point in our spiritual growth. When the person is “converted,” “enlightened,” or “born-again”, there is the feeling of having moved from a somewhat grey lifeless world into a world full of life and love and meaning. There is a purpose in living, and many possibilities seem to open out. “Born again” seems an apt way of expressing things.
D.H. Lawrence spoke of consciousness sloughing. He wrote, “Sometimes snakes can’t slough. They can’t burst their old skin. Then they go sick and die inside the old skin.”(The Plumed Serpent).
Those people who have “sloughed their skin” probably would not describe their previous lives as “spiritual death”, but they would probably agree that there has been a big change in the consciousness.
In the Epistle to the Ephesians (Ch.4.22) we read, “So get rid of your old self, which made you live as you used to —the old self that was being destroyed by its deceitful lusts and desires. Your hearts and minds must be made completely new and you must put on a new self, which is created in God’s likeness.”
In Hesse’s Siddhartha, Siddhartha’s constant growth and spiritual evolution is elucidated through the symbolism of the snake, the bird, and the river. As a snake sheds its skin in order to continue its physical growth, Siddhartha sheds the skins of his past: “he realised that something had left him, like the old skin a snake sheds. Something was no longer with them, something that had accompanied him right through his youth and was part of him” (37). In this way Siddhartha leaves his childhood companion, Govinda, and follows the teachings of the Illustrious One. Siddhartha then journeys on alone and feels vulnerable as his past reveals his lost soul, “I was afraid, I was fleeing from myself…”
(38). Siddhartha eagerly gathers self and ventures on to explore alternative religions. He longer relies on his past, his Samana upbringing and heritage, “Immediately moved on again and began to walk quickly and impatiently, no longer homeward, no longer to his father, no longer looking backwards” (42). Once Siddhartha is rid of his past, he continues the lifelong journey of Samsara, in which he eventually discovers himself.
We are now very familiar phenomena of Near Death Experiences where people who have apparently separated from their bodies and are able to witness resuscitation efforts as if from above, and often seem to pass through a tunnel to a place of light where they may be met by deceased friends and relatives. NDErs report an intensification and expansion of consciousness with little desire to re-enter the skin of the body that they discarded.
The trap that we may fall into when we study the question whether or not we survey the death of the physical body, is that we want to know what our circumstances are likely to be in the afterlife, what it would feel like, would it be pleasant, much as a tourist might enquire whether or not a foreign destination would be salubrious.
The great religions, of course, focus on what will help or hinder us in our spiritual growth. Spiritual growth, after all, is the real object of our existence.
In Afterlife Teaching, Stephen is patiently “(extraordinarily patient with us his questioners) trying to assist us in the paths of growth. Yes, spiritual growth does involve sloughing of skins or bodies, but we are not to think so much of bodies that we can visualise, but see them rather as restrictions of our consciousness and also of our love and creativity.
Jesus and Paul made very clear that we can be reborn, undergo spiritual rebirth, in our present lives. And Stephen made it clear that there can be a series of spiritual rebirths both in this life and in the next. In each rebirth there are less restrictions on our love, our knowledge, our empathy, on our sense that we are participants in the universe.
Stephen said that sometimes he feels that he has exploded into the universe, and that is his field of consciousness; other times he feels that he has imploded into being Stephen so that he can talk with us.
With regard to “shedding skins or bodies,” Stephen had this to say:
“Our Lord has said very clearly that we might be as he is, with the Father. He tells us that we must learn and trust and know through His example and His casting off of His bodies, that we lose nothing: we have in fact gained the peace and the harmony of being.
It is understood that this is never easy. It is not even easy to give away or cast off what even we know is ultimately unimportant.” (p.108)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (below) (1806-1861), English poet wrote Sonnets From The Portuguese (1850):
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
We can think of Elizabeth Browning’s words as addressed to a person and we can also think of them as addressed to the wide world of Spirit.
Poetry, rather than logic chopping prose, is the natural language of Spirit. - I do so especially like the words above that I have put in italics.
“How do we go about shedding skins?”
Modern communications have raised almost to infinity the possibilities of coming out of the skin of selfishness or self-centredness. The Internet gives us the means of communicating with hundreds of millions of people in most of the countries in the world through e-mail, through Skype, to the various sources of news which can provide us with videos enabling us to see and hear people afflicted by the multiple disasters of earthquake, flood, fire, famine and war. Much of the thinking of humanity is immediately accessible to us through our computers.
In spite of these opportunities, we do not necessarily shed the skin or body of self-centred selfishness.
Our self-centredness closely allied to self protection is a skin that many of us find hard to shed.
Experiencing love from others can help. Witnessing the altruistic actions of others can also help. Reading the testimonies of others including the scriptures of our own community of faith, helps as well. But we cannot avoid the seemingly dangerous step of dropping our barriers to Spirit. The act of prayer can be seen as such an act of sacrificing our self-centredness. The more we pray, the more we still the chatter of our minds, the more the wider consciousness (of which we are in actual fact a participant) is ours.
Abandoning our self-centredness is probably a lifelong process; but many of us do undergo some sort of spiritual crisis that enables us to make a giant spiritual leap forward. That crisis will differ from person to person.
Michael’s revised edition , Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr is published by White Crow books and available from Amazon and all good online book stores.
Next blog, April 17